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What’s your Alchemy? All-women comedy?

What’s your Alchemy? All-women comedy?

May 14 2014

Preview of festival which celebrates its fifth anniversary…

AN ISRAELI Qawwali singer, an all-female comedy-line up, Soumik Datta with Nitin Sawhney and Anoushka Shankar…it can only be Alchemy.

The 10-day extravanganza of all things South Asian hits the South Bank from Thursday with a dizzyingly varied and eclectic programme to mark its fifth anniversary.

Whether it’s art, books, film, music or comedy, there’s pretty much something for everyone and the programmers have combined the new and untried with the trusted and already popular.

Some events are free and there will be daily offerings in and around the South Bank Centre and there’s some appropriate food to help you along your way.

This year book lovers will be treated to a day of the Jaipur Literature Festival at the South Bank. On Sunday (May 18), the world’s biggest literature festival takes up residence in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Among those appearing are Vikram Seth, Kwasi Kwarteng, Mary Beard, Amit Chaudhuri, Kamila Shamsie, Maya Jassanoff, and Rana Mitter.

For the first time some of the artists performing at Alchemy will go on the road in 2015 extending the festival’s reach beyond London.

Among the many highlights is the all-female stand-up comedy cabaret night this Friday.

We caught up with compere and curator of “Immigrant Diaries” stand-up Sajeela Kershi, who has put the evening together.

As it says very pithily in the blurb: statistics don’t really tell the stories of immigrants, people do.

And to this end, Kershi has brought together a veritable trio of wonderful women who will give their own story.

Kershi said the idea for “Immigrant Diaries” came from the need to dispel stereotypes and show the variety of human experience that makes up the immigrant experience.

She told “It’s about challenging stereotypes and perceptions – like we all look the same.

“People often come up to me and say: ‘We loved your show in Melbourne’ and I say: ‘Yes, yes’. I walk away and think I’ve never been to Melbourne and it turns out they were thinking of Shazia Mirza or they say: ‘Hi, Shappi – no, I think you’ll find she is about half my size.”

On the evening, broadcaster Shyama Perera, once a near daily feature on news programmes, actress Shobu Kapoor (“Citizen Khan“) and comedian Juliet Meyers will be recounting their most formative experiences as immigrants.

Kershi said: “It’s about storytellers and passing stories down and shared joys.

“It’s a hot topic – immigration, everyone’s got an opinion on it, so you’ll be hearing stories from them and I will be telling my own story and weaving it in and out.”

Getting Perera on the bill was quite a coup for Kershi.

“She is part of my journey. When I was growing up no one on the telly looked liked me but Shyama was a role model. She’ll be talking about dining tables,” said Kershi.

The second part of the evening compromises more conventional stand-up with an array of female talent.

Appearing in this part of the bill is Isma Almas, Stella Graham, Bas Rahman and Ayesha Hazarika.

“We pick up the pace after the interval, it’s more punchy and there’s more audience interaction. The first part is storytelling,” explained Kershi.

It promises to be quite an evening and is just one of many highlights in this year’s Alchemy.

Picture: Shyama Perera, Sajeela Kershi, Shobu Kapoor, Juliet Meyers

*Immigrant Diaries and stand-up, Friday, May 16, 8pm, Purcell Room, SouthBank Centre, tickets £10.
Book here.

Other selected highlights include:

*Saturday May 17, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.30pm. Israeli Qawwali singer Shye Ben Tzur with guest guitarist Jonny Greenwood

*Tuesday May 20 Queen Elizabeth Hall 7.30pm, Soumik Datta with Nitin Sawhney, Circle of Sound album launch

*Wednesday, May 21 Level 5 Function Room 7.30pm. Author Neel Mukherjee reads from his book, “The Lives of Others“, set amidst the political turmoil of 1967 Calcutta.

*Wednesday, May 21, Purcell Room, 7.45pm Dance Triple Bill from Europe-based artists, featuring hip-hop and Indian dance in Heritage by Shailesh Bahoran, Tightrope Walker by Sooraj Subramaniam and a third piece from UK based Akademi.

*Thursday May 22, Purcell Room, 7.45pm. Susheela Rahman.

*Friday, May 23, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm Anoushka Shankar celebrates five years of Alchemy

*Saturday, May 24, Purcell Room, 3pm, Humza Arshad, “Diary of a Badman“.

*Sunday, May 25, Festival Village, 5.30pm, Nikesh Shukla and “The Time Machine“, a mix of reminiscence, cooking, and life with mother. Interview about this here.

*Sunday, May 25, Purcell Room, 7.45pm Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon presents “Factory Life“.

For booking and full listings please see

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture


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